June 13, 2014

Paulo Coelho, former member of Brazil’s delegation to FIFA, now says he won’t attend the World Cup


Screen shot 2014-06-12 at 6.05.59 PMIn 2007, Paulo Coelho, the most famous Brazilian writer in the world, was part of the official delegation urging FIFA to pick Brazil as World Cup host.  His enthusiasm was sometimes even over the top; he’s quoted in Reuters UK as saying that Brazilians were more enthusiastic about football than sex; as John Dugdale at The Guardian put it, Coelho “provided Brazil’s bid with the imprimatur of ‘the Pele of the novel’ and a narrative of national alchemy that elevated hosting the tournament beyond crudely showing off the country’s rise in wealth and international status – it’s as if JK Rowling had provided the rhetorical underpinning for London 2012 Olympics, guaranteeing a magical rebirth of Britain and the curing of its social ills.”

Coelho, the author of The Alchemist, among others, thought that hosting the Cup would “ignite an emotional response in all Brazilians.” Well, he was right about that, but the emotional response hasn’t been quite what he expected, and Coelho has recently distanced himself from FIFA and the competition.  FIFA and the Brazilian government have come under harsh criticism for spending millions in taxpayer money for stadiums and other preparations for the tournament, when much of it was meant to be privately financed. Many promised infrastructure improvements will also not be completed, in time or, maybe, ever. From the BBC:

Brazilians are passionate about their “futebol” and revel in the expectation that their team will inevitably win an unparalleled sixth World Cup title on home turf in July.

But many, too, are disgusted with the billions of dollars of public money being lavished on new stadiums for a tournament they had originally been assured would be almost entirely financed by the private sector.

Galling too, has been the long list of promised infrastructure projects, specifically intended to be ready by June’s kick-off but which have been delayed, downsized or quietly shelved.

Urban transport systems in Cuiaba, Salvador, Recife and many other cities will not be finished as all efforts go into finishing the stadiums themselves.

In an interview with French newspaper Le Journal de Dimanche, and reported on by The Guardian, Coelho reversed course and said that he would not be attending any Cup games, despite receiving tickets. Calling himself “very disillusioned,” he echoed the complaints of many citizens when he said that in “a country with a need for everything,” the copious amounts of money spent on stadiums would have been better spent on “hospitals, schools, transport.”  Rather than being the “blessing or a period of communion for us” that he’d hoped for, he called it a “disaster. “In my view there’ll be a social explosion. Violence has returned, there’s a fracture between the people and the government.”

With the games, and the protests, starting around the country, it would seem that, this time, he’s right.


Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.